By Dale W. Eisinger
Justin Bieber can do anything.
That’s one takeaway from a massive arena event like Wednesday night’s Newark, N.J. stop, on the 2013 edition of his Believe Tour. Give him a backup crew of five and a massive EDM beat and he’ll lead a hip-hop dance routine. Strap him into a rotating platform that juts two stories above the some-18,000 screaming fans of the Prudential Center and he’ll strum a fragile acoustic version of his song “Fall.” Put him behind a drum kit on a riser at the top of his intricate three-tiered stage setup, about 60 feet in the air, and he’ll solo to the back of the third mezzanine. Unfurl a slow bass line and he’ll rap the Tyga hit “Rack City” over the top. Give him a white grand piano and he’ll fold over it to belt his hit “Believe” to close the show, with fireworks and lasers and dancers and strobes.
Maybe he’s not a virtuoso of any single stripe, but he’s got enough stripes to lead an adoring pop army, even after more than a year of touring on the same concert and album. There’s just not enough Bieber to go around, as liberally as he spreads himself.
Thanks to YouTube, fans knew Bieber could do whatever he wanted from an early age. The jack of all showbiz trades had cameras trained on him from the beginning, and a lot of early footage of his life is shown throughout his live show on 100-foot video screens attached to the stage. A toddler-aged Justin dances in a kitchen. A pre-teen Biebs plays a wild drum solo as he emcess for himself. The vibrant confidence and charisma of his early videotapes are part of his success story, one that he continues to push as an achievement of his dreams through hard work, viral marketing and perseverance. “Let me hear you scream if you have a dream, too,” he said more than a time or two throughout the night.
Bieber is one of the biggest pop stars on earth, and he’s almost always behaved that way. At nearly every step of his life, when there’s a camera on him, his incredible self-consciousness leads to some kind of performance—perhaps even when he spars with paparazzi. He seems hyper-naturally aware of even the cameras 100 yards away from the stage, knowing exactly when and where to look directly into the lens with that wounded look, that one of sad puppy eyes but a remarkably unfurrowed brow. He’s seen as an unerringly young and prodigious dilettante, and we’re made to believe that through practice we, too, could achieve this level of success.
At this point, Bieber’s audience proved to be as broad as his skills, even if there were quite a few empty seats. Sure, females dominated the crowd. But the age range was from six to 66. He seemed, in the media, to grow from 12 to 20 within in the span of six months. And somehow his audience has not grown up with him; it has simply grown. His narrative is still fresh enough to be wholesome and inspiring to actual youngsters, yet he’s aged enough to be attractive, appealing and attainable to teens everywhere. There’s also an admirable, self-starter element to what he’s done—anyone could rationalize his ascension.
You have to wonder, as Bieber crosses into adulthood, if a phenomenon like this burns out or if it ever does. The 19-year-old certainly has some kind of bright future ahead of him, especially considering the range of his talents. Beyond the obvious stamina it takes to perform so diversely on such a large stage for so long, video segments during the show included him doing parkour, apparently scuba diving, and on set at fashion shoots. Effectively, he’s as versatile an entertainer as Fred Astaire. The problem facing Bieber is his move to a more mature market, crossing from Child Star to Pop Artist with enough personal satisfaction and artistic credibility to stay interesting yet wholly marketable.
The 1998 Oscar-nominated Jim Carrey film The Truman Show centers on a reality television program that’s existed since the moment of the subject’s birth. Viewers watch Truman Burbank learn everything in life as cameras everywhere broadcast the results, 24-7—kind of like Justin Bieber. The central dilemma is, when the subject of the show discovers he’s the center of a manufactured media nebula, does he stay within the comfort of that web, or does he extradite himself? Burbank leaves his show. But Bieber seems to want to go deeper. Instead of thriving on independence and autonomy, he thrives on knowing he’s the center and the star. He needs to be watched because he’s never known anything else. And we apparently need to watch him. Just how much more will he let on, and through what medium. This is the critical push-pull moment for Bieber: the whole world stares as he becomes a man.